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Casio EXILIM EX-S770 Overview

by Dan Havlik
Review Date: 04/19/2007

No one else makes ultraslim cameras like Casio, and its latest model in the svelte EXILIM line -- the 7.2 megapixel EX-S770 -- raises the style bar once again. As I remarked in a review of the Casio EXILIM EX-S600 last year, EXILIM cameras look a lot like the popular RAZR cell phones from Motorola, and the new Casio EX-S770's resemblance is even more pronounced. And like the latest RAZRs, the Casio S770 comes in different colors including silver, red, and purple.

As with most of its cameras, Casio doesn't skimp on interesting features with the EX-S770. Along with a fairly standard 3x optical (38-114mm equivalent in 35mm) focal range, the Casio S770 has a very bright 2.8-inch LCD with a very respectable resolution of 230,400 pixels. As usual, there are 34 scene modes, which Casio dubs "Best Shot," including an eBay mode that captures images at reduced resolution with auto macro focusing. More unusual is the new 16:9 movie mode which lets you shoot wide-screen video clips for playback on your widescreen TV. The Casio EX-S770 also boasts special new software which lets you convert documents and web pages on your computer to JPEG format for viewing on the camera's large (by digicam standards, anyway) LCD display. Another cool feature on the Casio S770 is a Continuous Flash Mode -- known as Rapid Flash -- which allows three flash shots to be captured in a single second. The tradeoff, of course, is that flash range is roughly halved, and ISO is raised.

All these features in such a slim but solid model come at a price -- $380 list, to be exact, though we've seen it for as low as $250 online. Read on to find out if the Casio EXILIM EX-S770's picture-taking ability matches its sleek design and robust feature set.

 

Casio EXILIM EX-S770 User Report

by Dan Havlik

Form vs. Function. At just 17mm at its slimmest point, the Casio EXILIM EX-S770 is about as ultracompact as ultracompact cameras can get. Though the Casio S600 was impressively sleek, it's no match for the S770 which has dimensions of 3.7 x 2.4 x 0.7 inches (95 x 61 x 17 millimeters). With the SD card and rechargeable lithium ion battery installed, the Casio S770 weighs in at 5.08 ounces, or 144 grams.

Along with being slimmer overall, the Casio S770's corners are more rounded and the front faceplate -- aside from the space for the lens -- is almost completely smooth. There's no metal finger grip on the front, as there was one the S600, which makes the Casio S770 more attractive but harder to hold. Definitely use the wrist-strap with this model to protect from accidental drops.

Tiny Buttons. The price of having such a slim form factor with such a huge LCD screen means something's got to get smaller. In the case of the Casio S770, it's the buttons which have been made smaller than on any camera I've tried.

Speaking of wriststraps, in my review of the S600, I complained about how the metal eyelet to hold the strap on that camera jutted out from the body, interrupting the overall design flow and providing an annoying protrusion that could easily get snagged. Well, somebody at Casio must have been listening because they've now indented the eyelet into the side of the S770 so that's its barely noticeable. Good thinking.

Where the S600 was a blend of metal and polycarbonate, the Casio S770 is composed mostly of metal which gives the camera an attractive and durable body. On the downside, all the attention to maintaining a smooth appearance has produced buttons and controllers that are way too small for the human hand to access quickly. I tested this camera during a blisteringly cold week in New York City, and it was impossible to use with my gloves on. Taking them off didn't help much either. Though I've never done a comparison test, the Casio S770 also seemed to have the smallest zoom rocker I've tried, making it very difficult to adjust. While much of this miniaturization has to do with the huge screen that eats up most of the real estate on back, there's still enough room on the right side of the rear panel for larger controls.

Along with being difficult to operate, the descriptions beside each button are written in an opaque white font that's difficult to read. While Casio's designers should get kudos for creating a very lovely looking ultraslim camera, they need to make greater efforts toward building buttons usable by humans.

Nice Display. But then there's that big LCD that fills most of the back of the camera. It's great to see that Casio not only made the display huge, they pumped it up with 230,400 pixels, which is great for playback and live preview. To speed up playback, however, the Casio S770's screen takes a second to res up, so it briefly looks out of focus. The same is true on immediate playback after capture which made me initially think a lot of my shots weren't sharp.

Otherwise, though, the camera takes full advantage of all that space on the wide screen. Along with being able to see your images clearly, the Casio S770 offers one of the best info displays I've seen on a compact camera. Pressing the (tiny!) DISP button on top lets you choose between a Panel layout which shows all your current settings -- including image size, flash status, ISO, white balance, etc. -- in a grey bar along the right side. You can also choose a Normal layout which letterboxes the sides of the wide screen and overlays current settings in the corners. Half pressing the shutter will instantly give you live settings, including f/stop, shutter speed, and ISO the camera is choosing.

While, alas, you cannot select aperture or shutter speed manually, it's nice that the display at least shows you what will be used before you shoot. You also have the option to add a live histogram in the preview; choose among five brightness settings; and pick the type of preview. Preview types were curious though, including Dynamic, Vivid, Real, Night, and Power Saving. I went with "Dynamic," though I didn't notice a world of difference from some of the other options.

Speed Freak. Like its predecessor, the Casio S770 is a speedy little camera which you can depend on for quick, candid shots. The Quick Shutter setting -- which is the default -- lets you immediately shoot a picture without having to wait for the S770's autofocus to engage. This is a great feature though the autofocus is actually quite fast on this camera. The Casio S770 powers on and is ready for first shot in just 1.7 seconds -- pretty good considering that the camera doesn't use folded optics and actually has a lens to deploy. At the full autofocus wide setting the S770 takes 0.63 second to capture a shot, according to our tests. When prefocused, though, the Casio S770 is one of the fastest compact cameras we've tested, taking just 0.009 second to capture a shot when you half press and hold the shutter button.

The Casio S770 wasn't bad shot-to-shot either, with the camera able to take a Large Fine JPEG image every 2.55 seconds in Single Shot mode, as averaged over 20 shots. On the downside, the S770 suffers from "early shutter penalty," which is when a camera refuses to snap another shot if you press the shutter too quickly in Single Shot mode.

One disadvantage to the EX-S770 is that it freezes the frame as it focuses. This can be a real problem when taking action photographs, regardless of the camera's shutter lag, so take note.

Overall though, I was impressed with the Casio S770's speed and I never felt it was struggling to keep up with my picture-taking. The camera's flash recycling time -- a nightmare on some compact cameras -- was also fairly decent, averaging 4.6 seconds with the flash at maximum output. Even better is the "Rapid Flash" function, which is labeled "Flash Continuous" under the Continuous shooting tab in the menu. Rapid Flash allows you take three flash shots in quick succession so you don't miss those important moments. Flash output is roughly halved allowing recycling time to be virtually instantaneous. Unfortunately, the ISO is most often raised to 800, which produces soft images.

Looks Sharp. The Casio S770's 3x optical zoom lens produced good center sharpness but noticeable softness and chromatic aberration in the corners, a symptom that is, unfortunately, not unusual in an ultracompact camera.

Image Quality Qualifiers. Image quality from the 7.2 megapixel Casio S770 was pretty close to its 6 megapixel predecessor, enabling slightly sharper prints at 11 x 14 size. Like the S600 though, this is definitely not a camera to turn to when shooting in low light without a flash.

ISO on the Casio S770 is only manually selectable to ISO 400. The camera will automatically select an ISO 800 setting when it detects low-light, non-flash shooting conditions. Since ISO 800 shots are too soft, S770 users should stick to shooting at ISO 200 maximum.

At the same time, like its predecessor, the Casio S770 suffers from over aggressive in-camera noise processing that robs shots of detail, regardless of ISO. While images looked okay from a distance, when you zoom in you can see visible anti-noise processing. The result is images that look soft even when they're in focus.

Though the 3x optical lens (38-114mm in 35mm equivalent, f/2.7-5.2) suffers from softness in the corners, this is fairly typical for cameras in this class. For the most part, sharpness was good in the central area of images. Also typical of super-small cameras, there was some purple fringing in areas of extreme contrast.

Many of my daylight images turned out just fine, but others were inexplicably underexposed. A look at the levels histogram shows no clipping, but I had to make a pretty significant adjustment to both the highlights and mids to make it all appear properly exposed.

Features. Casio has developed a reputation for offering extensive scene modes on its cameras. Even though the Casio S770 is one of the slimmest models in Casio's line, there is no skimping on the selection of modes in this model. With 34 Best Shot settings in all, the S770 can be set to adapt to a range of situations.

With so many modes, Casio does a good job of differentiating each one in the Best Shot menu. Hit the metal "BS" button on the back of the camera and you'll be shown three pages of images to identify each scene mode. Most are obvious choices such as a mountain landscape to identify the "Scenery" setting, or a child blowing out a birthday cake for "Candlelight Portrait;" but some are more difficult to identify such as "Old Photo," which is designed to store the faded color of an old photograph. If you tap the zoom button when in the Best Shot menu, you'll receive a close-up of the selected image and text that briefly describes what the scene mode does.

A new feature on the Casio S770 is its Data Transport storage function which allows you to move business documents, emails, and web pages from your computer to the camera for storing and viewing on the 2.8-inch LCD. While the function could really have been explained better, it's quite easy to use once you get the hang of it. Just load the Data Transport Software, connect the Casio S770 to your computer via the included cradle, and then print out the document you want transferred. In the print dialogue box, select the PDF button and access the pull down menu which allows you to convert your document via the Casio Data Transport option.

Light and Shadows. Though blues were slightly oversaturated, the Casio S770 produced generally pleasing color with good dynamic range between areas of light and dark, such as in this late afternoon shot. It occasionally underexposed shots as well, however.

Once you choose Casio Data Transport, the software will automatically convert the document and transfer it to the Casio S770. You can call up your document on the camera by pushing the (tiny!) DATA button on top. While, at first, your document will be too small to read, you can zoom in using the zoom toggle and it will enlarge to a readable, if cramped, format. Though the Casio S770's screen is large by digicam standards, it's no match for even the smallest laptop screen, so don't expect to be able to see too much of your info on the display. It is a helpful feature, though, if you're travelling and want to save an address, location, or tourist map from the web for later access. Along with web pages, I had no trouble converting and transferring Word documents. If you want to transfer stored photos from your computer to the camera, the Casio S770 also includes Photo Transport software.

To learn how to do all this, you have to open the manual. Not the thick paper manual that comes in the box, but the one on the software disk. The paper manual is actually just a small quick reference guide in multiple languages (hence the thickness). I prefer a paper manual.

Wide Screen Movies. I found the Casio S770's movie mode extremely easy to use. Unfortunately, as an Apple user, I again had trouble getting Casio's DivX files to play on my Macbook laptop. Casio, like an increasing number of camera makers, has decided to use the DivX video codec for its movies. DivX is a popular third party software which uses the MPEG-4 format to compress long video clips into small sizes while maintaining good visual quality. The problem for me was that despite loading a special "Movie Component" for OSX in my QuickTime folder, I still couldn't get my clips to display video on my computer, just sound.

And that's a shame because the Casio S770's movie function -- especially its 16:9 widescreen option -- is very fun to use. I loved the widescreen effect -- even though I could only enjoy it in playback on the camera's LCD -- and appreciated how easy it was to start recording a movie. Instead of having to change a menu or dial selection to video mode, just press the (tiny!) red button on back and the recording starts automatically. I only wish I could have found an easy way to play these clips back on my Mac.

Macro Focus. The Casio S770 was able to capture good detail in this Macro shot of the front headlight of an old car.

The Bottom Line. If you like your cameras slim and trim and like a lot of scene modes, the Casio EXILIM EX-S770 is a good choice. Packed with features, the 7.2 megapixel Casio S770 includes a 3x optical zoom, 34 Best Shot modes, a wide-screen movie mode, a very nice 2.8-inch LCD, and a Rapid Flash mode that lets you fire off three flash shots without having to wait for a recharge. Another interesting new feature is the Casio S770's ability to convert and transfer web pages, emails, and business documents for storing and viewing on the camera's display. While image quality could have been better -- especially its spotty low-light ability and its aggressive anti-noise processing -- the Casio S770 is a decent choice if you're looking for an ultraslim digital camera.


In the Box

The retail package contains the following items:

 

Recommended Accessories

 

Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Very slim and stylish design
  • Speedy all-around performance with virtually no shutter lag when you pre-focus
  • Rapid Flash function helps take quick flash photos in succession
  • Excellent 2.8-inch LCD screen
  • Unique Data Transport feature for storing and viewing web pages, emails and business documents on the LCD
  • Nice 16:9 widescreen movie mode
  • Buttons and controllers too small for hands and hard to read
  • Tends to underexpose most daylight images
  • Below average low-light capabilities
  • Over aggressive anti-noise processing obliterates detail
  • High ISO mode produces soft images
  • Below average battery life
  • Hard to figure out how to play video clips on a Mac

 

Casio's tradition of producing slim and sexy ultracompact models that don't skimp on features continues with the EXILIM EX-S770. Along with a sleek and solid metal design that's just 17mm at its thinnest point, the Casio S770 comes packed with enough bells and whistles to please even more demanding digital camera users. I really liked the camera's 230,400-pixel, 2.8-inch widescreen LCD. It's not only great for composing and viewing images, it also allows a near-full Function menu to stay on the display for quick access. The screen is also well suited for playing back the 16:9 widescreen movies the Casio S770 can make. Movies are unfortunately not easily made Mac-compatible. The Casio S770 is one of the speediest ultra-compact cameras I've tried, with virtually no shutter lag when you prefocus.

Image quality, however, was spotty. In normal daylight conditions, the Casio S770 captured good, if slightly underexposed images that look good enlarged to 11 x 14 inches from arm's length. When you look closely at those prints, however, you notice how aggressive the anti-noise processing is, obliterating fine detail. I also found the Casio S770 had below average low-light capability for shooting without a flash, with user-selectable ISO peaking at just 400. Though the Continuous Flash Mode allows three flash shots to be captured in succession, resulting images are very soft due to anti-noise processing. The camera's svelte form factor also made it hard to use. Buttons and controls on the Casio S770 were so small I had a tough time operating them. So while the Casio EXILIM EX-S770 has a lot going for it in style and features, it just misses out on being named a Dave's Pick.